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How to Make the Most of Your Internship or Work Experience

By Guest Blogger Trish Freshwater, Senior Communications Manager for Talent Acquisition at Sodexo. Originally posted on the Student Branding Blog.

It’s the age-old cliché: how do you gain job experience when employers are seeking candidates who already have experience?  Most students can quickly start to build their resume with an internship, while others can do the same through volunteering or part-time jobs. Yes, even that part-time retail job can help you prepare for your future career!

While internships are ideal, those who find themselves volunteering with local or campus organizations, or those with a part-time job outside of their major can build what’s called transferrable skills – skills that can be valuable in almost any job, like leadership, communication and organizational skills.

So, whether you’re gaining academic credit for your time with a company or you’re serving meals at a soup kitchen, here are some tips to get the most out of your internship and other experiences.

Be Results Driven
Approach your internship, part-time job or volunteer work with a plan for success. Before you even start, set some personal goals for the time you plan to invest – whether it’s a semester, the entire school year or just the summer. Then, once you’re working, take the initiative on projects to position yourself to leave with some tangible accomplishments.

  • For your personal goals – What do you hope to get from your internship/job/volunteer work? Are you seeking to network? Learn more about working in a particular specialty of your career field? Or, do you want to have specific experiences to build your skills? Setting realistic goals that you can work towards will help make your internship or work experience a positive one full of opportunity.

  • Tangible accomplishments – Since you’re new to your career field, accomplishments may take many forms. The same is true if you’re working part-time outside your field. Did you organize a meeting or event? Create a brochure or flyer? Organize an inventory system? Meet with clients? Research a particular trend or issue? All of these accomplishments helped grow your skills and can be valuable experiences to list on your resume.

Embrace Learning 
No matter where you are working or volunteering, seize every opportunity to learn more about the company/organization, how it operates and its role in the community and the industry. Attending company/industry meetings, conferences and training workshops will give you exposure to others (networking!) and increase your knowledge.

And, don’t be afraid to ask questions! While you may be expected to perform at a certain level – it is also understood that you are there to learn. If a process is new to you, ask questions to learn why it’s the best way to accomplish a certain task. Be open-minded to new ideas. And remember that there is never a dumb question – if you have the question, someone else likely does, too.

Seek a Mentor
A mentor is a person who can teach you more about the organization, serve as a guide while you’re working on a project and can introduce you to others as you build your network. If you’re participating in a formal internship, many companies – like Sodexo – will provide you with a mentor. If one is not given to you, look to your supervisor, a professor, others on your team or even outside of the department where you’re working. For more great tips on finding a mentor, read this.

Meet with Your Supervisor Regularly
Scheduling regular meetings with your supervisor allows you to not only discuss your assignments, but it also provides an opportunity to talk about your progress and other issues related to working in the department or industry. Some supervisors are great about scheduling weekly meetings, others are not. If you find that your supervisor travels a lot or doesn’t adhere to a standard meeting schedule, proactively seek out weekly or biweekly opportunities with him or her to touch base.

No Task is Beneath You
When I was in school, the joke about interns is that they were really great at bringing the boss coffee. But the reality is that interns do work hard at their jobs – observing and learning, and completing a few projects –even if they’re sometimes relinquished to lesser tasks like photocopying and other busy work. Part-time employees and volunteers often find this busy work passed along to them, too. The key with this type of work is to remember that every activity serves the larger function of the department or the project. While it may not be as exciting as leading the way, this experience will help build a greater understanding of all that is involved in the company’s success.

Whether you’re in the midst of your spring internship, working nights at the mall or living for volunteer opportunities, every opportunity presented to you helps build your experience. Embrace these opportunities with a positive attitude and a plan to accomplish goals during your time … and you’ll see success.

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Rebecca W said...

This was a great article especially for Freshmen and Sophomores looking for internships. I had never thought of volunteering as a way to get experience but that can lead to leadership roles within the organization. Ultimately leadership is what employers are looking for and it's important to be able to put it on your resume.

Sodexo Careers said...

Hi Rebecca!

We are glad you found this post helpful and that you are following our careers blog!